Well this came out of nowhere. First, let’s put things in context. God of geekdom (as declared by the internet), Joss Whedon, has exploded in the last several years. He went from cult-icon known for TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly to being one of the biggest names in entertainment thanks to his success with writing and directing The Avengers. While on vacation during The Avengers’ shoot, Joss Whedon secretly shot Much Ado About Nothing in his home with his friends taking up the roles. The film was well received, pulled in solid box-office revenue and for Joss Whedon, provided a smaller and more intimate film for him to sink his teeth into, as an escape from the mega-budgeted, studio controlled, and intricately large production of The Avengers. Now we have In Your Eyes, which is scripted by Joss Whedon, but directorial duties are given to Brin Hill (no surprise as Joss Whedon is a bit busy working on Avengers: Age of Ultron). However, there is an interesting aspect about the release of this particular project. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 20th, 2014, but Joss Whedon released a video announcing that the date will also serve as release for the public. In Your Eyes became available On Demand on it’s website through Vimeo for only $5.
In Your Eyes follow two people. Rebecca Porter (Zoe Kazan), a privileged, soft-spoken wife of a doctor, and Dylan Kershaw (Michael Stahl-David), an ex-con who is fighting the temptation of getting back to the kind of work that got him in prison. They both live in opposite ends of the country, yet they share a connection. A very literal connection, where through a metaphysical force, they can see through each other’s eyes and feel what the other is feeling. And it is through this strange connection that they begin to develop a relationship with one another. They are literally soul mates.
For anyone who has enjoyed the work of Joss Whedon, you can see several of his trademarks in this picture. There’s the clipboard holding, suit/lab-coat wearing antagonist, familiar tropes and clichés being turned on their head, strong female lead and quick-witted dialogue. However, unlike many of Joss Whedon’s other works, apart from the magical connection, there really isn’t any other genre element to this film. This is about as straightforward a romance film as you could reasonably expect from Joss Whedon, while still retaining his creative integrity, which would make In Your Eyes his most accessible film to date.
There is one element that I was at first shocked that Joss Whedon didn’t include in the film that you would typically find in his other work. I can’t really mention it though because the very nature of this recurring element is very spoiler-y. But I will say that despite predicting how I thought the film might end, knowing Joss Whedon’s style, I was very satisfied that it did not go that route. I really didn’t think much of it though until I realized that in a weird way, one could consider the ending off this film to be a jab at Nicholas Sparks films, which if you’ve seen those movies, you know how he likes to treat his characters once you grow to like them. Oddly enough, this element (again, trying to be as vague as possible) is something both Joss Whedon and Nicholas Sparks have in common. And in the one case, where I sat and thought, “Oh, great so this is where it’s gonna go,” it was interesting to see it not go that way. Perhaps he is using his reputation as a way to trick the audience. It may not be as strong a commentary as Cabin in the Woods was to the horror genre, but either way, his writing in this film is strong.
Apart from the writing, the other shining aspect of the film was the acting, at least from the two leads. It’s not that the supporting cast is bad, they’re fine. It’s just nothing to write home about. However, Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David are fantastic. Despite them having to be far away from each other for a majority of the film, they share an incredible and infectious chemistry. They both bring in a lot of enthusiasm, charm and earnestness for the material and as a result, you get invested in their relationship. It often does require good actors to pull off the Whedon dialogue without coming off as stilted and awkward, and these two do not disappoint.
Now the film does have some problems. It gets pretty cheesy at points. Now, Joss Whedon’s work all have some cheese in them, but in this case, given that it is a more straightforward romance film, the cheese comes off a bit strong. Also, I felt that the character of Phillip Porter, Rebecca’s husband played by Mark Feuerstein, fell a bit flat. For a good chunk of his screen presence, he acts very condescendingly towards Rebecca, for no real reason. But then there are points where it seems that the script is trying to humanize his character more, but by the time that comes, he is unlikable to the point of no return. So, those efforts failed to make his character more three-dimensional, which is unfortunate because I thought some interesting things could have been done with his character. Another thing that kind of bothered me was that at certain points it seemed that Rebecca and Dylan acted a bit illogical as they communicated. To clarify, they speak out loud in order to communicate to each other, they don’t speak telepathically. So, there are points where they are talking out loud in public, and it seemed to me that these characters were smart enough to try and hide it, by using a cell phone or something. They do that a couple times, but not every time, and it just comes across as odd, since the consequences could have been avoided if they were more careful. One final thing, which is more of a nitpick. There was one point where Dylan gets mad at Rebecca after a date gone wrong (it was a date that Rebecca made Dylan set up with a girl he liked), and he slaps himself several times, and Rebecca feels it. At first she provokes him, but after the second slap she tells him to stop but he keeps going until the girl he was on a date with walks in on him. The scene made me very uncomfortable, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about it; it certainly didn’t help that the film doesn’t seem to address it at any point later in the film. Apart from that, the film doesn’t falter much.
In Your Eyes is an interesting, charming, light-hearted and occasionally intense romance film with great dialogue and two fantastic lead performances. Brin Hill’s direction is confident, if nothing special, but the treatment of Whedon’s script is spot-on. For Whedonites, this might hold up until Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out, and it makes for a solid addition to his filmography. For those unfamiliar, this is easily his most accessible film so far, giving you a taste of what his writing style is like. But even if you’re not interested in exploring his filmography, the film is still one of the better romance films I’ve seen in a while. Though not flawless, it is smart, sincere and well worth $5.
Side Note: Simultaneous release is most likely going to increase over the next couple of years in a way that we haven’t seen before. In 2006, Steven Soderbergh’s Bubble was given a release in theaters and TV the same day, and then a DVD release a few days later. The same year, Michael Winterbottom’s The Road to Guantanamo was given a simultaneous release in theaters, DVD and the internet, being the first to do so. In 2013, Ben Wheatly released A Field in England in theaters, TV, DVD and On Demand. This year we already had Veronica Mars getting a release in theaters and On Demand the same day and now with In Your Eyes getting an internet release the same day as its film festival premier, it will be interesting to see where this trend goes. Convenience and availability had always been the big thing for consumers, especially for film, and the internet has revolutionized how we experience film. So, it’s cool to be around with a front row seat to see where this all goes and how it will affect the traditional way Hollywood typically distribute their films.